Mayfair owes a lot to Monopoly, I think. Its notoriety, its reputation, its insecurity. Other boroughs are equally oofy and unlivable and pin-striped (St James); just as aloof and Euro and townhoused (Kensington). But where Chelsea got a reality TV show and Notting Hill got Hugh Grant, Mayfair got the most expensive square on the most infuriating board game in existence — a target painted on its back in imperial navy.
I sometimes write stories in the broad genre of Rich People Behaving Badly — frankly its own minor industrial complex in a city like London these days — and one of the ways I find tips is to set up Google alerts for various combinations of keywords. Perhaps my most lucrative phrase over the years has been “Mayfair scandal”.
It’s not that the borough hosts particularly any more scandals than anywhere else, of course. It’s just that everyone, from the Daily Mail to the FT, knows that if you affix a boldtype ‘MAYFAIR’ to the mildest indiscretion it instantly gives everything a different, darker pallor — a sudden conjuring of chintz-wallpapered cabals and chortling Tory fat cats; of oligarchs scarfing endangered birds eggs on caviar toast in some underground nightclub. I personally think it’s all rather fun.
This, unconsciously or consciously, is the image and aura that The Twenty Two, situated down on Grosvenor Square (peak Mayfair), has attempted nimbly to swerve. The hotel-club-creative salon is fond of the best things about the area, of course — its highly useful location, its stately architecture, its colourful characters and unmistakable London-ness — but it knows that Mayfair can sometimes rub people up the wrong way, in a vaguely signet-rings-and-gold-Lamborghinis fashion.
The Twenty Two opened at the start of summer to great fanfare and high hopes. Darius Namdar, its talismanic MD, had been one of the forces behind the Chiltern Firehouse about a decade earlier — a honeypot spot which helped make Marylebone what it now is — while Jamie Reuben of the Hertford Street ascendancy is the backer, along with Navid Mirtorabi, the owner of Blakes hotel in Kensington.
"White-gloved service without the white gloves..."
Big names, big shoes. I popped into the hotel in the earliest days when the team were just putting the finishing touches on a few final suites, and was struck by how calm and composed it all seemed — no first night jitters or trembling, overeager service.
Namdar spoke of the “relaxed rigour” which he hoped would characterise the team and the atmosphere — never snooty or exclusive or silver-cloched, but personable, brilliantly on-top-of-things, calmly telepathic — and the fact that the trad dress codes of elsewhere in Mayfair didn’t matter so much here. (“White-glove service without the white gloves”, was how Mirtorabi described it to the FT.) This was a flag in the ground for New Mayfair, perhaps — powerbrokers and parties; chic and cheek; diplomats and Dua Lipa. In an area long obsessed with The Done Thing™, it seemed like a tricky act to pull off.
Navid Mirtorabi, the hotelier behind The Twenty Two
After several months and several evenings at the Twenty Two, I can tell you that it works, and quite wonderfully so. The dining room, with its powder-blue walls and Parisian pomp, pairs a riotous atmosphere with its stately fixtures, like marble fireplaces and mustard velvet chairs. The food leavens excellent British ingredients with a continental, mostly Mediterranean lean, with a single-sided menu set in sans serif unfussiness. I loved the pasta al limone and crab linguine, while the Sole Meuniere was terrific and the salt-baked Cornish Red chicken has the air of an instant classic.
But you could throw a dart anywhere on the menu and be delighted, well-fed, quietly thrilled. “Grilled tiger prawns” doesn’t give much away, nor does a “Devonshire crab salad” — but each are utterly first rate and as good as anywhere in London. Kate and Naomi are fans, and Jeff Bezos has been seen to cut around in it. The staff wear suits made by Charlie Casely-Hayford. It is an instant institution; an overnight classic.
The duck-egg reaches of the ground-floor dining room soon give way to the deep, promising red of the subterranean fun. This is the central forum of the private members club at the Twenty-Two, which hums and buzzes with a handsome, decidedly creative crowd. (It is young, too, for this neck of the woods — perhaps because under-33s pay just £750 a year for membership.)
The discotheque (that feels appropriate) is a riotous swirl of 1970s hedonism, with scarlett walls, conspiratorial corners and mirrored tables. Everyone is good looking and refreshingly un-hedge-fundy. Everyone is having a very good time.
Upstairs, in the 31-bedrooms, the muted, beige, first-class-departures-lounge mood of the 0.01% is entirely absent, and the decor is much more country house maximalism than Loro Piana panic room. Each of the rooms has been individually decorated by designer Natalia Miyar in a kaleidoscopic palette of patterned wallpapers, eccentric touches, heavy velvet curtains, sometimes four poster beds.
The bathrooms, meanwhile, are outfitted in a sparkling sweep of black-and-white marble, and I often wonder why any hotel would bother with anything else. The outside of the big, dove-grey building does present as somehow Parisian in certain lights, and upstairs things are as sweet and light and bright as a gadrooned platter of Ladurée macarons.
The patisserie metaphor is a happy one, actually. The Mayfair of old had a touch of gout about the ankles. Too much Petrus, too much statement steak, too many sexy fish. The Twenty Two, on the other hand, is like fine French confectionery; sorbet for the soul: light but moreish, colourful and palette-cleansing, delicious at all hours.
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